It started out as a clear winter’s day, cold enough for a jacket and a scarf but not bitter enough for several layers of clothing. As Zach Fields walked down to the edge of the lake, he could see his breath spiraling away from him into the air. It was a quiet and peaceful afternoon.
He was just going skating, as he had done ever since he could remember. He had not bothered telling his parents, for he would only be gone for a little while. With his skates strapped over his shoulder, he approached the lake.
The lake was very large, several families besides his lived in scattered places around the water’s edge. Some used it for a year-round house, but his family just visited for the holidays. He liked it better here, for the forest was all around him and he could almost feel Mother Nature close by He knew where all the animals lived, and even named a few of them. Of course, all the forest animals were fast asleep now. Even so, he was more at home here than anywhere else in the world.
Cautiously, he took his first gentle step onto the ice. Testing it, he slowly shifted all of his weight onto its slippery surface. It seemed strong enough, so he quickly tied on his skates and was off.
Zach loved skating. He felt as if he was gliding across the land, without a care in the world. The gentle wind, the ease of movement, he always has and always will love that feeling. Expertly, he did a few flips and turns, stretching his muscles until they felt ready to burst. He etched a few patterns into the ice and twirled around, totally unaware that he was slowly moving away from his house. After a while, he glided to a stop. The wind had picked up, and it had started to snow. He decided to go back.
It was harder moving against the wind, so it was slow going. He had at least a mile to go until he reached his house, so he knew he had to keep going. His parents would get worried if he didn’t come home soon. The sun was at its lowest point in the horizon, and the temperature had dropped. The air was sharp and brisk. Each breath sent a freezing dagger into his lungs, filling him with pain. The light snow had turned to a frenzy of sleet, pelting him in the face and making his skin raw and numb. An icy wind blew all around Zach, bringing the cold to the core of his body He shivered. He wished he hadn’t gone so far out. As he got colder, he slowed down. By about ten minutes he was barely moving. He crouched down, absorbing all of the body heat that he could.
Suddenly, he heard a creak behind him. A split second later, a groan, and then a crack appeared on the ice. It grew wider, and branched off into several smaller cracks. Then another crack appeared, and another. He sprang to his feet, and flew off. He could hear the groans of thin ice behind him, and sped up. The cracks raced behind Zach, growing and splitting and staying at his back all the while. The sleet and snow made seeing almost impossible, so he had no idea if he was even going in the right direction. Then it happened.
The cracks finally caught up to him, and in a split second had surrounded him. He was frantic. He tried to move, but every time he did the ice creaked, and another crack formed. He was trapped. Even as he stood still, the cracks came closer and closer, and in a flash he was submerged in the water.
The freezing temperature hit him like a speeding freight train. The cold penetrated his flesh and went straight to the bone. The water sucked all the strength out of him and left him weak and even colder. As he bobbed back up to the surface, his head hit the ice. Using his remaining strength he pushed with all his might, but the ice wouldn’t budge. His skates dragged him down, pulling him toward the murky depths of the lake. His eyelids were stiff and frozen, and no matter what he did they wouldn’t open. He screamed in fright, but only bubbles escaped his mouth. Oxygen rapidly escaped his tired body, and his lungs pounded in his chest for air. He frantically searched for an opening in the ice with his hands, but found none. A wave of pain washed over him, and his lungs throbbed faster and faster and faster. Just as he started to sink into a void of darkness, his hands hit air, and he scrambled up onto the ice.
He feebly pushed himself onto the frozen water, and collapsed on its surface. He gasped and wheezed, filling his lungs with air. Coughing, water poured out of his mouth, collecting on the ice. Shaking uncontrollably, Zach curled into a ball to find any heat possible, but found nothing. He shivered and blacked out.
When Zach woke up, he was still huddled on the ice. His clothes were sopping wet, and his ice skates were a wreck. He knew he had to move to stay alive. Hugging his dripping coat to his body, Zach made his way bit by bit back to his house. Extremely fatigued, he clomped up the steps to the back porch, and shakily removed his jacket, skates, shirt, and socks. His fingers were blue with cold, and numb. Fortunately, a fire was crackling and sizzling in the fireplace. Zach crouched and warmed himself by the fire. He made a cup of hot chocolate, and was walking back to the living room when he noticed a note on the kitchen counter. It read:
Zach, we’re out looking for you. If you find this note, please get warm and call us. Your father has his cell phone with him. We are so worried about you!
Zach smiled as he reached for the phone. He slowly walked back to the couch and pulled a blanket over him. The hot chocolate was an immediate relief and filled Zach with a tingling sensation all over. As he punched in his dad’s cell phone number he thought, Sometimes, you can only rely on yourself.
Outside, the ferocious thundering of sleet had turned into a soft, light snow, and the wind had ceased. As the sun went down, it shed its last rays on the ice. It shimmered and gleamed in the last fading rays of the day, and then darkness enveloped the land. Peace and quiet reigned once more.